Driving Safely in Iceland
While everyone knows that Iceland is a stunning place with breathtaking landscapes, there also seems to be a small percentage of people who believe that driving in Iceland is scary or dangerous. I think I know where this comes from. The country is covered in ice and snow for about half of the year, so if you are not used to winter driving conditions, getting an Iceland car rental can be a little intimidating. Even if you’ve got studded snow tires and years of experience behind the wheel, no one wants to hit a patch of black ice and skid. But luckily, driving safely in Iceland is pretty easy. Common sense measures like slowing down and driving with caution go far in situations like these or if you're visiting in summer, which is less treacherous. Let’s look at some information about driving in Iceland and how to stay safe on the road.
Basic Information About Driving in Iceland
The most frequently asked questions about driving in Iceland are the speed limit and which side of the road we drive on. With regards to the speed limit, it depends on where you’re driving and the surface of the road.
The Speed Limit in Iceland
While driving through urban areas such as villages, towns, or cities, you’re required to slow down to 30-50 km/h (18-30 mph). When driving on rural or uninhabited sections of the Ring Road, you can go up to 90 km/h (56 mph) if you are driving on paved asphalt. If you are on an unpaved gravel road, the maximum speed limit is 80 km/h (50 mph).
Now keep in mind that just because you can go up to a certain speed doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. It’s always advisable to travel below the speed limit when facing inclement weather or unsafe road conditions in Iceland. While many of our tourists visit in the summer, there are plenty that visit during the winter months of November through March. During this period there is plenty of precipitation in the form of rain, snow, sleet, hail, and ice. Black ice and slush can also be particular hazards.
Other FAQs About Driving in Iceland
While driving in Iceland, keep in mind that people drive on the right and overtake on the left. Make sure that you only do this when you have a clear view of oncoming traffic. Blind hills or “Blindhaed” sections of roads can be dangerous if you attempt to pass but don’t know what’s coming.
You’ll also notice that everyone will have their headlights on. This is because by law, you have to turn on your car’s headlights if the vehicle is moving. It doesn’t matter if you are traveling during day or night or whether visibility is high or low. All passengers must also be buckled up at all times, and you cannot get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol, not even a sip of beer.
Advice for Driving Safely in Iceland
While much of the information about driving safely in Iceland is common sense, it’s always good to have reminders. There are also some particularities about Iceland driving that you may not be aware of.
Watch the Weather
In addition to driving slowly, it’s important to frequently check the weather forecast for Iceland. The reason for this is that conditions can change in the blink of an eye. You could be driving along the Ring Road with clear blue skies and then suddenly get hit by a snowstorm. If you’ve scoped out what Mother Nature has planned for the next day or the next few hours, you could save yourself a massive headache when driving from point A to point B. Always plan your time on the road around when there’s not likely to be a storm or bad weather. Iceland’s climate is wild, crazy, and unpredictable, and the best strategy is to avoid getting caught up in it if at all possible.
Driving Hazards Specific to Iceland
There are some other country-specific things to watch out for while driving in Iceland. The first is the sheep. While the Ring Road is great for driving around the island, it’s also the main thoroughfare for cars and commercial vehicles alike. Much of the population lives along the Ring Road, and that includes farmers. In Iceland, agricultural professionals generally let their animals roam free. At some point, you’re like to encounter a group of sheep either blocking the road or walking alongside it. Be very careful, as sheep scare quite easily and the sudden sound of your engine approaching might cause one of them to dash out into the road without looking at where they’re going. Next thing you know, you've got an irate farmer on your hands, a dent in your Iceland car rental, and a bill for the perished sheep (may they rest in fluffy peace).
Another thing to be aware of, besides the aforementioned blind hills and darting sheep is one lane bridges. There are a lot of these, so you’ll have to pull to the side and signal to the other driver that they should cross first (or vice versa). And if you’re driving your Iceland 4x4 car rental in the Highlands, you’ll notice that there are no bridges! You’ll need to find the shallowest point of the river and cross there. But do so at your own peril; no insurance covers water damage caused to your SUV or rental due to crossing rivers.
Driving Safely in Iceland
Driving safely is easy in Iceland. You just need to be prepared for new circumstances and expect the unexpected. Some of our favorite useful resources for safe driving in Iceland are the Iceland SafeTravel website and web portal as well as the Driving Safely in Iceland section of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration website. There is also a series of very helpful videos entitled “Driving with Elfis - Dangers on Icelandic Roads” that illustrate the many different scenarios for motorists to be aware of. You can view the videos on YouTube is the Icelandic Drive website is down. Check them out and also read the Reykjavik Auto Iceland car rental blog for more information about driving in Iceland and planning your trip to this beautiful Nordic island.